mazda_bt-50_frontA day at the races – Melbourne Cup, Magic Millions or Cox Plate – usually involves putting on appropriate clobber and catching a short ride, probably in a limo, to the track. That is unless it’s the Birdsville Races.

The idea was to pick up Mazda BT-50 utilities at Leigh Creek and drive them ??? kilometres up the Birdsville Track to the famous races recently. However, Mother Nature intervened by dumping an ocean of rain in the area, leaving the south-west Queensland town an island of disappointment to members of the media, me included, who were part of the plan.

There’s certainly one thing to be said about the Mazda BT-50, it doesn’t float. With this in mind the maker’s Aussie hierarchy sensibly decided to forgo the media shakedown on impassably wet approach roads all round Birdsville.

This sent yours truly rummaging through notes of an encounter earlier this year after a mid-life makeover of the popular ute to remember what it was like. It all came back to me as a thoroughly pleasant experience.


With a list of variants as long as the Federal Senate poll paper, petrol and diesel powered, two or four-wheel drive, the BT-50 comes in single cab, freestyle cab and dual cab format in three grades – XT, XTR and GT.

Mazda BT-50 comes with the choice of two diesel engine engines including the MZ-CD 2.2-litre 4-cylinder motor and an MZ-CD 3.2-litre five-cylinder unit, both with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

Prices start at $25,570, plus on road costs, for the 2.2-litre Single Cab/Chassis XT 4×2 manual and round out to $53,790 for the 3.2-litre Dual Cab Utility GT 4X4. The test vehicle, the 3.2-litre Dual Cab Utility XTR 4X4 automatic, slots in at $51,700.

Mazda has come up with a less challenging shape for the revised BT-50. Key to this are a powerful front end that inherits elements of the Mazda family face and a rear that differentiates the BT-50 from other less adventurously shaped utes.

The updated BT-50 rolls on newly designed wheels – XTR and GT on 17-inch wheels with a two-tone gunmetal and machined alloy finish. XTR models have taken on polished tubular side steps, which unfortunately could fall foul of rocks or logs in the rough.


Dual-zone climate control air-conditioning keeps occupants comfy in outback heat, while quality floor covering, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel and gear shift knob add a touch of prestige normally only found in passenger cars.

Noise, vibration and harshness have also been addressed to achieve the quiet and comfortable driving found in passenger cars.

Mazda BT-50 XTR and GT models have been given a new centre console layout which includes a 7.8 inch high definition screen and satellite navigation. HEMA maps are available as an option.

An advanced audio system sports six speakers, while all models feature functions typically seen in passenger cars. For example, USB connectivity for portable audio players, Bluetooth connectivity for mobile telephones, and voice control.

The 3.2-litre diesel engine has an inline five-cylinder configuration with 20 valves, a turbocharger with an intercooler, and common-rail direct-injection technology.

The engine is longitudinally positioned closer to the vehicle’s centre of gravity to minimise twisting effect.

The six-speed automatic transmission of the test vehicle incorporated Sequential Shift Control, which offers Normal and Performance modes plus a Manual mode that allows sequential manual shifting. The Performance mode gives more responsive acceleration. In Manual mode, the driver can select gears as he or she pleases.

An electronically controlled, shift-on-the-fly transfer case enables the driver to shift between 2WD and 4WD at will via a switch on the centre console. Low-range gearing is available for extra torque or downhill braking.

A raft of safety technology includes ABS anti-skid braking, dynamic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, brake over-ride, hill launch assist, hill descent control, traction control, roll stability control, load adaptive control, trailer sway control and emergency stop signal.

The BT-50 has driver and passenger front airbags, side airbags, and curtain airbags, the last extending as far as the rear seat. The driver’s and front passenger seats each have a three-point emergency-locking-retractable seatbelt with a pre-tensioner and a load limiter.

The vehicle is designed to minimise the extent of injuries in the event of contact with a pedestrian.

The five-cylinder in-line 3.2-litre turbo-diesel engine is a no-nonsense unit. Expect to average fuel consumption of nine to eleven litres per 100 kilometres on the bitumen around the suburbs

A torque curve with a peak plateau of 470 Nm from 1750 to 2500 rpm provides smooth engine response during take-off and prevents uncomfortable downshifts on sharp acceleration, or when tackling inclines.

A linear steering feel has been dialled in by engineers, with the rigid rack-and-pinion mechanism working more precisely, giving improved road feedback. The rear suspension includes a rigid axle with leaf springs offering superior steering and handling, plus excellent ride comfort.

Comfort and convenience extend to the cabin surroundings, which in fit and fixtures match many passenger sedans running around these days. As a workhorse, the BT-50 is up there with best with a class-topping braked towing capacity of 3500kg, an unbraked capacity of 750kg and a tow ball download of 350kg.

On the downside, the 7.8 inch screen on the test vehicle may have been high definition but its positioning on the upper central dash made it susceptible to reflection in bright sunlight, rendering the images unreadable.

Reversing camera, standard on XTR and GT, and available as an option on all grades, is not much better, being projected on only a small section of the rear view mirror. Saving grace are sharp, bright coloured guidelines, which come to the rescue in reversing into tight spots.

With a long line-up of models, the BT-50 has something for everyone, and almost every set of conditions, for example the outback under water, and should continue to maintain its place in the upper echelons of Mazda’s product range.


2.2L Single Cab/Chassis XT 4×2 manual $25,570 2.2L Single Cab/Chassis XT 4X2 automatic $28,815 3.2L Single Cab/Chassis XT 4X2 manual $28,815 3.2L Freestyle Cab/Chassis XT 4X2 manual $32,745 3.2L Freestyle Cab/Chassis XT 4X2 automatic $34,745 3.2L Dual Cab/Chassis XT 4X2 manual $34,745 3.2L Dual Cab Utility XT 4X2 manual $36,545 3.2L Dual Cab Utility XT 4X2 automatic $38,545
3.2L Dual Cab Utility XTR 4X2 manual $41,630 3.2L Dual Cab Utility XTR 4X2 automatic $43,630
3.2L Single Cab/Chassis XT 4X4 manual $36,850 3.2L Single Cab/Chassis XT 4X4 automatic $38,910 3.2L Freestyle Cab/Chassis XT 4X4 manual $40,815 3.2L Freestyle Cab/Chassis XT 4X4 automatic $42,815 3.2L Freestyle Cab Utility XTR 4X4 manual $47,675 3.2L Freestyle Cab Utility XTR 4X4 automatic $49,675 3.2L Dual Cab/Chassis XT 4X4 manual $42,815 3.2L Dual Cab Utility XT 4X4 manual $44,615 3.2L Dual Cab Utility XT 4X4 automatic $46,615 3.2L Dual Cab Utility XTR 4X4 manual $49,700 3.2L Dual Cab Utility XTR 4X4 automatic $51,700 3.2L Dual Cab Utility GT 4X4 manual $51,790 3.2L Dual Cab Utility GT 4X4 $53,790
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mazda dealer for drive-away prices.

FEATURES (standard)
Cruise control
Trip computer – Audio system with: AM/FM tuner, single-disc CD player (MP3 compatible) and 4 speakers
Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio capability
Steering wheel-mounted audio controls
Airbags: front (driver and passenger), side (front) and curtain (front and rear)
Anti-lock Braking System with Dynamic Stability Control, Emergency Stop Signal, Hill Decent Control (4×4 only), Hill Launch Assist, Locking Rear Differential (4×4 only) Roll Stability Control, Traction Control System, Trailer Sway Control

17 inch alloy wheels
Chrome door handles and power mirrors
Front fog-lamps (Halogen)
Headlamps auto on/off
Chrome rear step bumper
Side steps (tubular, polished)
Tailgate lock
Wipers (front) 2-speed with rain-sensing function
Air-conditioning (dual-zone climate control)
Floor covering: carpet
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob
Rear-view mirror auto dimming
Satellite navigation
Reverse camera

SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda BT-50 XTR 3.2-litre Dual Cab diesel automatic utility)

Capacity: 3.198 litres
Configuration: In-line 5-cylinder 20-valve DOHC intercooled turbo-diesel
Maximum Power: 147 kW @ 3000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 470 Nm @ 1750-2500 rpm
Fuel Type: Diesel
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 9.2 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: N/A

DRIVELINE: Six-speed automatic

Length: 5365 mm
Wheelbase: 3220 mm
Width: 1850 mm
Height: 1821 mm
Turning Circle: 12.4 metres
Kerb Mass: 2086 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 80 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Drum

Three years / unlimited kilometres

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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